As students across Kansas settle down for another school year, they are being thrown into a controversy over what teachers tell them about the origins of the universe. The Kansas Board of Education has voted to de-emphasize the theory of evolution -- the theory that all life evolved from common ancestors, and that humans developed from the same wellsprings as animals.
The board did not vote an outright ban on the subject matter. It couldn't. That would have run afoul of U.S. Supreme Court decisions. It did, however, decree that starting in 2001, scientific theories of evolution would not be included on Kansas' statewide exams.
This is a politically and religiously loaded decision. Many Kansas school districts insist they will make no curriculum changes because of this vote. However, common sense tells you that many teachers will now, at the least, be less inclined to cover evolution in class, focusing instead on subjects they know their students will be tested on.
This is a victory, and not a small one, for some of those who describe themselves as the "religious right," who see themselves as champions of creationism -- the story of Adam and Eve -- the belief that God created the universe and all the varieties of plants and animals, and humans as unique living things in His own image.
This is a complicated, as well as controversial, situation. How different people feel about what to teach and what not to teach in our schools. And about which decent-intending people can differ in good spirit.
Trouble is, the spirit in this controversy is seldom good. It turns ugly in a hurry, all too often, and students are made to pay the price.